It has been just 8½ months since the Washington softball team saw its season abruptly canceled because of the coronavirus, but Husky coach Heather Tarr said it feels like five years.
The team’s exhibition game against the U.S. Olympic team was postponed March 11, one day before it was to be played. The next day, the NCAA canceled all spring championships.
“If I can go back and look at my notes and what my mindset was at the time, you were kind of in disbelief,” said Tarr, whose team was 23-2 and ranked No. 2 when the season ended. “It was like, ‘No, no, no, you don’t have to completely cancel the season,’ but when it happened, you’re not sad for your season and the way it was going, it was more just the unknown. You didn’t want to give up a career or a season for the gals who were involved. That was what we were most distraught about.
“Once we got over the unknown and knew the next steps, it was, “All right, OK. Next steps.”
In some ways, little has changed for the Washington softball team since last season was canceled. Seniors Sis Bates, Morganne Flores, Taryn Atlee and Kaija Gibson elected to return after it was ruled that last season would not count against eligibility.
Tarr calls them her “super seniors,” and they will be leading the team in the upcoming season, which is tentatively scheduled to start in the second week of February with a series of games at UNLV.
The super seniors provide leadership and star power. In June, Bates was voted the shortstop on ESPN’s Greatest All-Time college softball team. The same month, Flores won the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top catcher.
Tarr said the Huskies started official fall practices on Sept. 30, 15 days later than normal, because of budget reasons. Tarr said most of the players returned to UW around Labor Day and began working out on their own.
“So when we did start on Sept. 30, they had already put in a bunch of work without the coaches, which is cool, and it was mostly led by our super seniors,” Tarr said. “They were champing at the bit to get out of their own quarantine situations at home from March until August — it’s just a great bunch of leaders we have who have been taught by leaders from before.”
The team finished fall practice Nov. 20. It will begin a seven-day quarantine Jan. 4, then begin practicing again Jan. 11.
Expectations will be very high for UW, which not only has some of the country’s top position players, but also outstanding pitching, led by All-American senior Gabbie Plain. But it’s a deep staff as Kelley Lynch, the 2019 high school player of the year, Pat Moore and Brooke Nelson, also had great success in last year’s abbreviated season.
Tarr said the goal for the team never changes.
“We are always trying to win the last game at Oklahoma City (home of the Women’s College World Series),” said Tarr, whose team reached the Final Four at the WCWS in 2019. “That is always our mission. However we do that, whether that’s by winning the conference or finishing in the top three of our conference — which is sometimes more challenging to do than getting to the national championship game because our conference is so strong — that’s always our mission.”
Tarr, who has been head coach at UW since 2005 and led the team to the 2009 national title, said this year’s team has the ingredients to be very good.
“But the biggest thing always is how well can we develop and how much can we grow throughout the season,” Tarr said. “We’re just hopeful we can get as many games in as we possibly can.
“The excitement is there, but we’re just literally trying to focus on today, because we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow.”